Frequently asked questions

You've got questions? We've got answers!

We've rounded up a list of questions students ask us all the time, done our homework, and provided you with the answers you need. If you have a question that isn't on our list, you can always contact us!

Alberta's Post-Secondary System

  • Some of the main differences between college and university are the size of classes and the campus, and what the institution offers in terms of credentials.
  • Universities typically have larger campuses which mean there are generally more students to a class.
  • Universities offer undergraduate degrees (usually 4 years in length), as well as graduate degrees for students who choose to continue their post-secondary education beyond the undergraduate level (these include master and doctoral degrees).
  • Colleges can have undergraduate degrees but also offer certificates (usually 1 year in length) and diplomas (usually 2 years in length).
  • It's a myth that university is better than college!
  • One type of institution may be better for you than the other depending on your needs as a student. For example, if diversity in classes offered is important to you then a university may be the better choice. However, if smaller class sizes, closer relationships with your instructors, and a more clearly defined career path are important to you, then college may be the better option.
  • In the end, after considering what type of institution offers the credentials you need, it is up to personal preference. Some of the following questions are good to consider when making your decision:
    • What size of class do I prefer?
    • What size of campus do I prefer?
    • Are there specific classes I want to take? If so, where are they offered?
    • Where do I want to live while attending university/college?
    • How much does my program cost?
    • What is the admission criteria?
    • What academic support resources are available?
    • What campus facilities are available?

It sure is! Post-secondary education means ANY form of education after high school, including the trades. When you’re enrolled in a trade, there is a classroom component where you will be required to attend technical training at either a college or technical institute.

  • The trades are unique because the program mostly consists of hands on work. The program is 80% hands on training and only 20% in-class learning. For people who learn better by doing, trades are a great choice.
  • As well, as a trade student you get to earn money while you learn!
  • The other great thing about trades programs is you gain experience as you receive your education, thus, finding a job after may be easier when you are done your education.
  • Visit the Tradesecrets website to learn more about opportunities in the trades.

The term ‘Ivy League’ was originally coined from an NCAA Division 1 athletic conference made up of 8 schools in the United States. The term is now well-known and more broadly represents a group of old and prestigious colleges in the US. The 8 Ivy League schools include Brown, Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania. These schools are known for their academic excellence, competitive admission requirements, and elite social status. Find out more about the history of Ivy League schools here.

As explained in the answer above, ‘Ivy League’ actually represents an athletic conference in the States, which means that Canada doesn’t have official Ivy League schools.

The Globe and Mail University Report listed the Canadian ‘Ivy League’ schools (in terms of prestige and academic excellence) as being:

  • University of Toronto
  • McGill University
  • Queen’s University
  • University of Western Ontario
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Alberta
  • University of Waterloo
  • McMaster University
  • The Globe and Mail also published an article called “A university education in Canada is a bargain” comparing the cost of high quality education in the US vs. Canada. The take away message: for comparable academic programs, the privately funded Ivy League colleges in the United States are much less affordable than their publicly-funded Canadian equivalents.
  • It’s also important to note that both Canada and Alberta have councils that work together to ensure all degree programs offered at public institutions meet a required quality standard, unlike in the United States. This allows Canadians to more freely choose their institution of study based on a more personal best-fit as opposed to academic rigour and recognition.


You should apply several months before the beginning of your desired starting semester.

  • The Fall semester starts in September, and the Winter semester starts in January.
  • If you wanted to start in September, start your application in January.
  • You can go to ApplyAlberta to apply to one or more post-secondary institutions in Alberta in one website, and with ease. You could contact the school(s) on your own, but going through a single online application process is way easier.
  • You can upload your high school transcripts (for free!) and all the necessary personal information in one place, and check the status of your application at any time, and with as many schools as you would like to apply to.
  • Check the website of your chosen school and find the application page. All the steps you need to take to apply to your program of study will be on this page.
  • If you do not have access to a computer, ask your career counselor for assistance in contacting the school, by phone or mail.
  • You will need to submit your high school transcripts to the institution directly, and mail correspondence will be up to you.
  • You can apply to as many schools and programs as you feel comfortable with (just keep in mind that you’ll pay an application fee for each school). You can only apply to a specific program at an institution once per year, but you can apply to multiple institutions at one time.
  • Check out this post on why it’s a good idea to apply to more than one school.
  • This charge applies to every application you submit to a school.
  • You may be able to pay this fee online, most post-secondary schools have this option.
  • International students often pay more in application fees

If you do not get accepted into the program of your choice, you can upgrade your marks and try again! Or, you can consider having a back-up plan. You might want to start at a different school or in a different program, and then apply to transfer.

Indigenous Students

On-campus Supports:

  • Most post-secondary institutions have Aboriginal Student Support Centres that offer programs and services to indigenous students during their post-secondary education. These centres are designed to help indigenous students be successful in post-secondary, and foster a supportive community for students when making the transition away from home.
  • Aboriginal Service Centres offer students academic support such as tutoring and mentorship programs. Other services can include printing, funding resources, scholarship assistance, and housing while in school.
  • Many of the Aboriginal Support Centres also offer cultural services and a space for students to participate in cultural gatherings, activities, and other related events and programs. These activities can include stew and bannock, meetings with elders, round dances, and craft sessions.
  • Some of these support centers have opportunities for high school students to participate in tours and explore the campus.

Funding Supports:

  • To explore funding supports, indigenous students can first contact their band’s Board of Education about specific policies for post-secondary funding. There are also multiple organizations that offer scholarships and bursaries specifically for indigenous students. Check out our post on accessing supports for indigenous students to learn more about these opportunities.

Junior High Students

Junior high is a great time to start exploring careers! Below are some examples of what you can do right now to start exploring your interests:

  • Try out the different options courses available at your school to see what interests you and what you’re good at.
  • Get a volunteer position related to the sort of career you’re interested in, so you can start to get some experience.  
  • Explore online quizzes and personality tests to get a better idea of what might be a good fit for you.
  • Once you have a better idea of which careers you're interested in, visit the ALIS website to learn more about the them, like what sort of schooling you need and salary ranges for different jobs.
  • Once you're in high school, if you feel like you’ve done all of your research and you're ready to take your career planning further, you could:

Practicums and Co-op Placements

  • Practicums or co-op placements are just fancy terms for work experience related to your field of study that you complete during your post-secondary education as part of your program’s requirements. The primary purpose of these opportunities is to give you real-world work experience in your field.
  • For instance, nursing students at MacEwan University must complete several practicums where they work in clinics or hospitals to gain hands-on experience. Other examples might include a business student who works a co-op term at a company, or an engineering student who completes a co-op term by doing research at their university.
  • While in a practicum or co-op placement, you would work full-time for your employer and during this time you do not typically attend any classes. Once you are done your practicum or co-op placement, you return back to school and carry on with your in-classroom learning. You may do this several times, depending on how your program is setup.
  • Practicums and co-op placements vary in length depending on the program, but typically range anywhere from one month to a full year.
  • The main benefit of pursuing a co-op or practicum program is that you gain real-world work experience. Some things can only be learned on-the-job and can’t really be picked up in a classroom environment. For example, an education student might learn the theory behind managing a classroom full of 6 year-olds in her university class, but finds that it’s completely different in practice once she steps into a real Grade 1 classroom.
  • Another big benefit to a co-op or practicum is that it provides you with an experience you can put on your resume and talk about in interviews. Employers value work experience, so having a co-op or practicum on your resume gives you an edge over a student who many not have completed one.
  • A co-op or practicum also allows you to network with employers in your industry, allowing you to make connections which may help you to find a job after graduation.
  • Yes. If you are enrolled in a program that requires you to complete a co-op or practicum, there are systems in place to help you find a job. There’s usually an office set up to help students with the job search, staffed by advisors who establish relationships with employers so that the employers can advertise opportunities to students. Essentially, it’s the office’s job to act as a liaison between employers and students. The office may have some sort of job database setup so that students can apply to jobs posted by employers interested in having a co-op or practicum student. The office may also offer other resources such as resume reviews or interview tips.
  • Although your institution may help with the job search process, you aren’t usually guaranteed a job. Many students compete for the same positions, so you still need to put in effort into your applications to be competitive.
  • As well, you might have to do a bit of your own job search outside of your institution’s systems in order to successfully find a job. That being said, co-op and practicum programs still make the process a lot easier than having to find a job yourself.
  • Depends. Although it ultimately depends on the program, co-op positions are usually paid while practicums usually aren’t.
  • The amount you are paid depends on your program and what organization you end up working for. If you are paid for your work, it’s a great way to help pay for school.
  • If your program requires a co-op or a practicum, then you must complete these requirements and they will count towards your parchment.
  • However, depending on the program a co-op or placement might not be mandatory and may be optional instead. For instance, in the engineering program at the University of Alberta, enrolment in a co-op program is optional. Students who do not enroll in a co-op program do not need to have any work experience to complete their degree.


  • Did you know only about 20% of scholarships in Alberta are based on grades!
  • Scholarships are typically based on merit, and can be awarded for all sorts of things like leadership, volunteering, athletics, ethnicity (heritage groups), experiences, trades, financial need—just to name a few.
  • The best way to learn about what scholarships are out there is to begin exploring them. Our Scholarships 101 blog post is a great place to start.
  • Our Scholarships 101 blog post has already done half the work for you! Nine of the best scholarship websites that many Ambassadors personally use are hyperlinked for your convenience, so it’s a great place to start looking.
  • Keep in mind that you must be accepted to a post-secondary program in order to apply for an institution’s scholarships. Once you’re accepted to a school you will have access to the school’s internal database for scholarships and bursaries. Pro tip: your school’s internal scholarships will usually be less competitive than those found on public websites.
  • Talking to your parents may also be a great way to search for scholarships. Companies and unions may have scholarships for employee’s children.
  • Scholarships are everywhere and sometimes the best way to find them is word of mouth. Talk to your friends and family to see if they know of any organizations that offer them or if they have tips for where to look.
  • Scholarships commonly have deadlines throughout the year so it’s best to consistently keep your eyes and ears open for them.
  • August/September is a good time to start looking for scholarships with deadlines in the Fall semester (September-December).
  • December/January is a good time to start looking for scholarships with deadlines in the Winter semester (January-April).
  • From May to August there are still scholarships open, some are for Spring/Summer semester while others are for the following school year.

Yes! Scholarships require you to be accepted into a post-secondary program, so if you meet the individual requirements and are accepted into a program you can apply. Taking a gap year may actually increase the amount of scholarships available to you because you will have expanded the areas of your experience, allowing you to qualify for more scholarships.

  • Not really. That's why it’s really important to start early and keep good track of scholarship deadlines when you are preparing.
  • The Alexander Rutherford Scholarship is an exception – if you already graduated from post-secondary but didn’t get a chance to apply for this scholarship back then (which is based on your high school grades), you can still apply for and receive payment, granted you meet the criteria and can show your transcript. In fact, the Rutherford scholarship accepts applications from anyone who graduated after 1980!
  • There is no limit on the number of scholarships you can apply for – the world is your oyster!
  • When it comes to receiving scholarships, there is no limit to how many different ones you can receive, but there may be rules about how many times you can receive the same scholarship within a lifetime. For example, the Jason Lang Scholarship for post-secondary students in Alberta sets a maximum of 3 scholarships per lifetime. (By the way, this scholarship is super easy to apply for! It only sets academic criteria of maintaining a GPA above 3.2, so keep this one in mind if grades are your strong suit.)
  • Absolutely! There are many awards available for younger students – often from individual schools, district school boards, or competitions for young minds.
  • In Edmonton, the Public School Board offers both District Awards for grade 12 students, and Community Awards for junior and senior high students. There are also awards and scholarships for junior and senior high students from Edmonton Catholic Schools.
  • If you have hobbies or interests, do some extra research and see if there are other competitions you can participate in. For example, if you’re a high school student interested in science and biotechnology, the Sanofi Biogenius Challenge offers students the opportunity to conduct their own research and enter for a chance to win hundreds to thousands of dollars in regional and national competitions. If you’re a grade 8 student with a passion for writing, the EPSB community awards offer the Margaret T. Stevenson Talented Young Writer Award for students in grade 8.
  • Apart from doing some online research yourself, one great way to find out more information on what’s out there is to talk to your teachers or your school counsellor. There are a lot of districts within Alberta, but your school support staff can help you navigate your options – be sure to ask about school-specific awards, district and school board awards, or any other resources they may have heard about. They might provide some useful insight on which scholarships you might be suitable for and how to whip up a good application. If you know your teachers pretty well, they might have suggestions for subject-specific competitions and awards, or even provide some help with writing letters of reference.
  • Check out our Scholarships 101 page for more information on how to apply, and a list of links to scholarship websites to start your search! Another great resource is the FAQ page on the Scholarships Canada website. Their information organizes into questions pertaining awards, eligibility, application, and searching listings.
  • Scholarships can be an intimidating and confusing thing to tackle, especially for younger students, but don’t be discouraged! There is more out there for you than you might think.

Student Aid

  • Student aid is provided by both the Canadian and Albertan governments and is a type of loan designed to help students pay for post-secondary education and the associated fees, such as tuition, books and supplies, and living expenses.  
  • You will be required to pay back your loan amount after you graduate along with any incurred interest on the loan. Learn more about types of funding on the Alberta Student Aid website.
  • Grants are money awarded based on financial need or to those who require special financial assistance.
  • The best part? Unlike a loan, grants do not need to be repaid. Grants = free money!
  • When you apply for student aid, Alberta Student Aid will assess your eligibility for Alberta and Canada grants.
  • You will be informed in your Student Award Letter if you have received a grant.

Full Time Students

  • You must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or have protected person status under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Students with a study permit are not eligible.
  • You must be a resident of Alberta.
  • You must be enrolled as a full-time student taking a minimum of 60% of a full course load (40% if you are a student with a permanent disability).
  • You must be enrolled in an eligible program at an approved post-secondary school.
  • You must demonstrate financial need, calculated using the following equation:
    Education and Living Costs  -  What You Contribute  =  Your Financial Need
  • Other factors that may affect your eligibility:
    • credit rating if you are a first time applicant and 22 or older
    • your previous loans are in default
    • if you declare bankruptcy while repaying student loans
  • Learn more about eligibility as a full time student on the Alberta Student Aid website.

Part Time Students:

  • Applicants who are considered “independent” do not have parental income factored into their need assessment.
  • Alberta Student Aid does not expect your parents to contribute to your education funding. However, information about your parents' income is used to determine your eligibility for Canada student loans and grants. Check out the Student Aid website for more information.

Yearly applications for student aid open in early June, and you can apply between then and 30 days before the end of your school year (so you can apply for student aid even after you started your studies).

  • You apply online through the Alberta Student Aid website. For more detailed information on how to apply, check out their How to Apply page.
  • You will be asked to create an account through the online Students Finance System (SFS) if you don’t already have one.
  • You’ll need the following information:
    • Your Social Insurance Number (SIN)
    • Your Alberta Student Number (ASN)
      • You can find your ASN on any of your report cards or diploma exams
      • You can also find your ASN here.
    • Start and end dates of your school year
    • The cost of tuition and mandatory fees
    • The cost of books, supplies, and instruments
    • Line 150 from last year’s income tax return
    • Your income and savings prior to starting this school year
    • Your expected income and resources while you are in school

The part time student aid application form must be printed, completed by you and your school, and mailed to Student Aid Alberta. You can find more information about applying for student aid as a part time student on the Alberta Student Aid website.

You will receive a student award letter telling you how much funding you are eligible for, that will be sent to your institution, and it will also tell you the disbursement dates (when you actually get your money).

  • Alberta Student Aid and the Canada Student Loans Program calculate your eligibility using a Financial Need formula that compares your costs with your resources. The formula is: Education and Living Costs – What you Contribute = Your Financial Need
  • Your assessed financial need is then compared with the loan limits allowed for your student period. The lesser of these two amounts is what you’re eligible to receive.
  • After completing the application for your student loan, you will receive 2 things in your Alberta Student Aid online account:
    • The first is your Student Award Letter (hang on to this!) which states how much money the government is willing to loan to you.
    • The second is called a Student Aid Agreement. To complete this form, all you need to do is fill out your bank account information, sign, and date it. Once you complete your Agreement and send it back you can expect to get your money either right before school starts or just after. The money will just appear in your bank account one day!
  • If you're approved for a Canada student loan, you'll also receive an email from the National Student Loans Service Centre. Follow the instructions to complete your electronic loan agreement on their website. 
  • Keep checking your bank account and once the money comes in make sure to go pay your student fees before spending any of it.
  • Pro Tip: If your money doesn’t come in before school starts, don’t worry! In post-secondary you will get a couple of weeks after the first day of school before you have to pay your school fees. If your money still hasn’t come in by the time your fees are due, take your Student Award Letter to the cash office. This shows the institution that you are still waiting on your money and they’ll hold your spot until the loan comes in.
  • For your Canada student loan portion of your loan, you have until you’re making at least $25,000 a year before you have to start paying it back – which is pretty awesome!
  • For Alberta student loans you have a grace period of 6 months after you complete post-secondary before you have to start making payments on your loans.
  • When you come to end of your post-secondary journey you will receive a booklet in the mail called “The Loan Repayment Handbook” which is a helpful guide that talks about your different options when repaying your student loans. You will have options as to how much you want to pay and when you want to make payments depending on your student loans, and you can choose to use pre-authorized payments, online or telephone payments, or personal cheques. All three of your student loan payment options are broken down here on the Alberta Student Aid website.

Every year you will receive a letter in the mail explaining what to do depending on your situation. If in April you decided to continue on to the next year of school you will do nothing in regards to the letter, but in August when the new student loan form comes out, you will have to reapply. The letter will have options if you will be graduating or not continuing studies in the next year.

Study Abroad

To get started, we recommend checking out our super helpful post on travel opportunities for students.

In a nutshell, there are 3 main places you can search for opportunities to study abroad:

1. At your school (whether that’s a high school, college, or university)

Check out the international education office at your school, and keep an eye out for posters around the school that advertise travel abroad opportunities. When contacting agencies to ask about their programs or your eligibility, include details such as your program/year of study to help the organization provide you with the most useful information.

2. Online at government agencies

High school students can check out Alberta Education's information on international education. For current post-secondary students, you might want to check out Alberta Advanced Education's international information, or the federal government's international website.

3. Various study abroad student exchange organizations

There are many global companies dedicated to organizing your study abroad or exchange program. A simple Google search will generate many of these organizations that can even help you gather your passport/visa documentation! Below is a list to get you started:

Pro Tips:

  • When trying to decide where in the world you should study, consider your own personal interests as well as the specific costs each institute or program requires. Also, consider the safety of the country in which you hope to study. Try to look up local FAQ’s and student testimonials online or on your institution’s website so you can get an actual idea about what students like you have experienced during the planning stages and real exchange experience.
  • Make sure you find out when the application due dates are before starting your application!

Yes! A lot of scholarships and bursaries are non-specific so as long as you can provide proof of enrollment you are golden.

  • Government:
    • This is your student aid scholarship application or your federal scholarships. You may also be eligible for government funding if you or a family member works for any branch of government.
  • Private industry:
    • Be sure to ask your work or family member's work whether they have available funding options. Another great resource is banks. Most banks have scholarship and funding programs. You can also get a student line of credit from your bank to supplement your funding. Many corporations such as Tim Hortons and Starbucks also have tuition reimbursement programs.
  • Post-secondary institutions:
    • You can get institution-specific and sometimes program-specific funding. Be sure to go talk to your funding and awards office advisors and check out their website.
  • Service organizations:
    • If you volunteer or are a part of a local not-for-profit organization, including churches or sports teams such as Timbits, or roller derby, your organization might have funding options available in the form of scholarships. If you don’t ask you'll never know!

Check out our Scholarships 101 post and Travel Opportunities for Students to get more information on funding a study abroad trip.

You sure can! International funding is available from Student Aid Alberta for full time studies at designated institutions. Furthermore, specific funding is available through most programs and institutions. You can also get a student line of credit through a bank.

Student Aid Alberta has a list of designated schools outside of Canada. If your school is not designated, you can submit a request to Student Aid Alberta to get your school designated. In order for a school to be designated it must meet the following criteria:

  • Schools in the United States:
    • Your school must be approved for Title IV Status by the United States Department of Education. Use the Federal School Code Search to find out if your school is approved for this status. 
  • Schools Outside North America:
    • Your school must have been in continuous operation for a minimum of two years.
    • Be accredited or approved for student aid in its home country.
    • Be listed in at least one of the designated online or print resource.

Keep in mind that medical degree programs are a bit different in their designation requirements.